Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Katsue Inoue I
I first met Katsue Inoue at her superb one man show in the art gallery of the Daimaru Store in Shimonoseki City. In Japan, art exhibitions are often held in the major department stores, and gallery-goers have the additional pleasure of being able to purchase any of the exhibits on the spot. Her works were all woodblock prints (what the Japanese call 'Sosaku Hanga') though most were so large that I marveled at her technical virtuosity.
The prints were mostly of flowers, and those which impressed me had a nostalgic, Art Nouveau atmosphere though, at the same time, many lively, modern touches. There were, in particular, some brilliant prints of poppies with long sinuous stems. It was impossible not to admire them, and yet I was conscious of the fact that there was hardly a suitable wall-space for such prints in my book-filled home, so my mind turned to ex libris, and I wondered whether the artist could make an ex libris with the power of those large prints. When I consulted her through the agency of Nobuko my wife, she was in some doubt about it; also she had never made an ex libris before. We had no time for a long discussion as she had to catch her plane back to Tokyo, but she kindly agreed to do her best, and in a few weeks I had a welcome call from the store to say that my ex libris plates were ready. The lettering in unfamiliar English script was not perfect, but the general impression was delightful, especially as many of them were hand-colored by the artist. Soon after, in 1982 she designed some more bookplates-this time with elegant lettering in Japanese and I had the pleasure of introducing a new artist of original talent to the ex libris world. Not that she was unknown as an artist, as she had been responsible for many exhibitions and had undertaken many important and difficult projects such as large murals for Buddhist temples and other historical buildings.
She had, however, proved her ability to adapt her powerful conceptions within the small space of an ex libris, and was soon to exhibit her plates in the exhibitions of the Nippon Ex Libris Association. Her ex libris were commissioned by people well known in Japanese society and in 1986 she brought out a boxed folio of fine ex libris in a limited edition. One of the plates, for Miss Michiko Nagai, the well known author, was of a Heian style woman with long straight hair and several voluminous kimonos. It seemed to have been printed from a large number of blocks and was proof that Katsue had the patience and technical skill to print such a complex and demanding plate. I immediately asked her to make me a similar plate with the image of Murasaki Shikibu the author of one of my favorite books (though in translation, as few Japanese even can read such very ancient Manyogana Script) the world's first novel, The Tale of Gengi.
It was some time before she was able to find the time for such a project, but one day the package arrived. Printed from ten blocks, it was superb in color scheme and design. It has always been one of my most popular plates but I was not at all keen to exchange it as the number printed was small.